2017-02Thematic Section
Understanding the Concept of Gift in Economics: Contributions from Other Social Sciences


In putting forth a view of economic agents as autonomous individuals driven by self-interest, mainstream economics precludes the possibility of gift. Gift could be found in non-market, “collectivist”, societies, where “informal” norms would include gift-giving. In this context, the paper argues that mainstream views regarding the impossibility of the concept of gift are inaccurate, via an analysis of conceptual and empirical contributions of other social sciences, notably sciences of mankind “par excellence” such as anthropology and philosophy. In particular, the paper shows that critiques of mainstream views that are based on simple contrasts and qualifications do not provide conceptual instruments for a rigorous critique (such as “collectivism”, “informality”, “altruism”). This is also the case with the more “heterodox” views that underscore the unrealistic character of mainstream models of social interactions and norms. The mainstream arguments of self-interest and exchanges, based on expectations of future returns as universal traits of human beings, are indeed not easy to refute, including with the conceptual tools of other social sciences. This paper instead argues that a deeper analysis of concepts such as selfishness, interest, exchange, or the individual yields a more relevant critique of mainstream conceptions of gift—“the interest of whom?” and “exchange shaped by what?” being the pertinent questions. Other social sciences show that these concepts actually always presuppose the pre-existence of societies before that of individuals, and this is expressed by the many facets of the conceptualisations of the act of giving, whether societies are market or non-market ones.


gift, exchange, neoclassical economics, developing countries, group membership

How to cite:

Sindzingre, Alice Nicole. “Understanding the Concept of Gift in Economics: Contributions from Other Social Sciences.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 1, no. 2 (2017): 4–20. https://doi.org/10.26319/2911.


Alice Nicole Sindzingre
National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS, Paris)
3 Rue Michel Ange, 75016 Paris, France;
EconomiX-University Paris-Nanterre
Bâtiment G – Maurice Allais, 200, Avenue de la République, 92001 Nanterre cedex, France;
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Department of Economics, University of London
10 Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, United Kingdom


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